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A Recipe for Change

BY ERIN J. BERNARD

How can Oregon’s kids learn if they’re hungry? A public-private partnership serves up a solution.

BY ERIN J. BERNARD

How can Oregon’s kids learn if they’re hungry? A public-private partnership serves up a solution

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Faubion school principal LaShawn Lee (third from left) is flanked by students, colleagues and partners from Concordia University-Portland and Pacific Foods of Oregon

The kids at Faubion School were hungry — Principal LaShawn Lee knew this for certain the day she found a 4-year-old student nibbling a pinecone.

The girl’s mother had suggested she chew on them whenever she felt hungry, and hers wasn’t the only family struggling to sate empty bellies. When long breaks loomed, kids acted up, preoccupied by thoughts of bare cupboards at home. One parent even asked to search the dumpster for scraps.

No denying it: This Title 1 School, among the most diverse and economically challenged in the Portland Public School District, was desperately undernourished.

Meanwhile, just across the parking lot on a neighboring campus, Concordia University was pondering how to better connect its fast-growing student body with transformative service learning opportunities.

The two schools already had a solid friendship, with Concordia students volunteering regularly in Faubion’s preK-8 classrooms. But changing outcomes for these kids, Lee knew, would require improving quality of life far beyond those classrooms, beginning with mealtimes.

“This is a university 122 steps away that is graduating the top teachers. And I had the need to have those teachers in my building,” she says. “We had to connect our institutions.”

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Find out how you can support 3 to PhD’s new national model for education at www.3toPhD.org

And connect they did, joining in a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership that’s putting hope in the hearts of Portland’s most underserved children.

The connection between undernourishment and unrealized potential was clear at Faubion, says Concordia Chief Development Officer Kevin Matheny: “We had kids with needs that go way beyond the learning part. It’s more than reading, writing and math.”

The entire school already qualified for free or reduced lunch, but what about weekends and long breaks?

Matheny brought the dilemma to Pacific Foods CEO Chuck Eggert, and the challenge appealed to his entrepreneurial vision.

“If our mission is to sell better, wholesome food, it shouldn’t be restricted only to people who can afford better, wholesome food,” he says.

Food insecurity is definitely the elephant in Oregon’s room, says Pacific Foods Community Store Manager Meredith Eggert: “I was at an event recently and someone asked me what I did. And they said, ‘There aren’t hungry kids in Portland.’ But it’s happening everywhere.”

1015-bs-concordia02Soon, Faubion kids were toting home payloads of organic, protein-rich Pacific Foods products like oatmeal, milk and chicken thigh meat each holiday break. Faubion next stocked a hallway food table, free to students, parents and teachers alike. Chuck Eggert asked Whole Foods to start sending its My Street Grocery trolley, packed with affordable produce, every week. Auxiliary food supports covered holidays and breaks.

But addressing systemic hunger is like peeling an onion: Remove one layer of need and another’s waiting underneath. Everybody needed to think bigger.

In 2010 Portland Public Schools approached Concordia hoping to float a bond measure to rebuild Faubion School. Soon, says Matheny, that vision had evolved into plans for a $48 million facility that would also house Concordia’s College of Education and a host of wrap around food-and-wellness services, funded by the bond and Concordia’s capital campaign.

It’s called the 3 to PhD initiative, and it’s “all about forming partnerships to work with communities to solve challenges so young people can overcome barriers to education,” explains Concordia University Strategic Communications & Partnerships Advisor Madeline Turnock.

Address the continuum of education, from the first three trimesters of life to the Pursuit of one’s Highest Dreams (PhD), the thinking holds, and you’ll build safer, healthier, more educated communities.

It’s an ambitious model, but it’s definitely replicable, insists Lee: “Every neighborhood that’s deemed an at-risk or a poverty-stricken neighborhood, believe me, there’s a university a stone’s throw away.”

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Working to create a new model for education: Pacific Foods of Oregon CEO Chuck Eggert and Concordia University’s Kevin Matheny and Gary Withers

The bond passed, the capital campaign continues and plans have been drawn up for the new building. In addition to classrooms, it’ll house early childhood education, health and wellness services, and mental health services provided by Trillium Family Services. Pacific Foods will stock a “Food Club” with groceries priced at cost, and there’ll also be a food pantry, with Concordia students helping to run it all.

Concordia is the sixth-fastest growing of the nation’s private master’s-level universities, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and 3 to PhD will give each student among those expanding ranks a taste of the service’s transformative powers.

Scholarships will also be available to encourage Faubion kids to attend college at Concordia, recently named Oregon’s number-one private university by Oregon Business Magazine.

But for now, during Faubion’s temporary location at an empty PPS building, food assistance continues, and students and staff from both sides of the parking lot count the days till the new school opens in fall 2017.

Food insecurity may be complex, says Chuck Eggert, but the mission behind this initiative isn’t: “Our whole goal here is to help kids — that’s it. We might be able to learn something along the way, develop a better model or get a paradigm to shift, but it all comes back to, how do you help the kids?”

Find out how you can help schools feed hungry kids with Pacific Foods’ Nourish Every Body tool kit at: www.pacificfoods.com/nourish-every-body

 

 

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